Stewarding the Death that Sets us Free
The great German theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” (Cost of Discipleship). He knew this death was not an end in itself, but a door, a passageway that opens up to us all that God has for us and all He seeks to do through us. You see, this death is not only the portal to God’s blessings on us, but also the power of God to work through us to be a blessing to the world in which we live.
What kind of death is this? Let’s let Scripture answer.
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin (Romans 6:6-7).
Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died (Romans 7:9).
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules (Colossians 2:20).
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming (Colossians 3:1-6).
Simply put, it is death to sin in every form; death to self-promotion, death to the need to control, death to greed, death to lust, death to the desire for power, death to unhealthy pride, death to anger, death to envy, death to apathy, death to bitterness and resentment and everything that brings relational brokenness.
It is also death to everything that separates us from God. It is death to misplaced trust, death to the love of money, death to dependence on anything but God. It is death to lukewarm faith, death to self-serving worship, death to spiritual arrogance and death to a spirit of divisiveness and rancor.
Further, it is the death of the things in our second kingdom, things we hold onto that end up killing us. It is death to our baseless fears, death to our godless anxieties, death to the sins of our past, death to the burden of unrepentant sin and death to the stranglehold of withheld forgiveness.
Finally, it is death to the things that break the heart of God. It is death to our blindness to injustice, death to our timid witness, death to our confessional cowardice, death to our toleration of sin in the name of tolerance, death to our desire to be liked that we hold more dear than our passion for lifting up Christ, death to our unwillingness to suffer for those who suffer and embrace loss for those who cannot find their way, death to our comfort that numbs us, convenience that isolates us and conformity that castrates us. It is death to our desire for cheap grace, which is:
“…the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship).
This is the death to which God invites, calls and implores us. He does so because He knows that as a result of this death we will rise to the new life He has won for us. But without death there can be no resurrection.
Here are three reasons we steward this death and why it is so critical to our world.
Revival Depends on It
Great spiritual revivals begin with death. The revivalist Charles Finney wrote, “Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.”
Revivalist author Brian Edwards writes, “We often have a tinted view of revival as a time of glory and joy and swelling numbers queuing to enter the churches. That is only part of the story. Before the glory and joy, there is conviction; and that begins with the people of God. There are tears of godly sorrow. There are wrongs to put right, secret things…to be thrown out, and bad relationships, hidden for years, to be repaired openly. If we are not prepared for this, we had better not pray for revival.”
In the book of Chronicles we hear God pleading for revival, “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).
Most every follower of Jesus I know yearns for a spiritual revival in America. Perhaps the first step to seeing such a dream come to life is for every follower of Jesus to embrace such a death.
Following Jesus Requires It
I am becoming more inclined to use the phrase ‘follower of Jesus’ rather than ‘Christian.’ I do so because the latter speaks of status where the former speaks of sacrifice. I do not believe you need to die the death of which we are speaking to be accepted as a good Christian in our culture. Indeed many people who would call themselves Christian would recoil in horror at the idea that somehow their faith would require such a death.
Followers of Jesus, on the other hand, are covered with the dust of the Master. They go where He tells them and says what He places on their tongues. They labor by His power, live with His peace and love in His name. And they die to self that they might fully live for Him. After all, He made it clear what it means to be a follower of Jesus,
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
Are you ready to die to self so you may follow the Master?
Our Christian Witness is Powerless Without It
Without this death, we have nothing to offer a world that is spinning out of control. If we have not died this death, we hold out no version of life that is truly life. We only stand among the hypocrites offering counterfeit wares dressed up in religious garb. The lost find no hope in it, the old find no comfort in it and the young see right through it. Perhaps young people are leaving the church because we have not shown them a vision of life that is found only on the other side of this death.
For the sake of true revival, authentic discipleship and transforming witness, let us commit to die this death as the most important step in our journey as faithful stewards. To help you embark on that journey today I will leave you with one man’s milestone. It was his last. Preparing to die the next day at the hands of Rwandan rebels, a young man penned his defiant tribute that should be the anthem of all who are willing to die to all that would separate us from God and live fully under this banner:
I am a part of the fellowship of the Unashamed. I have the Holy Spirit Power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away, or be still. My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame visions, mundane talking, chintzy giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits, or popularity. I don’t have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded, or rewarded. I now live by presence, learn by faith, love by patience, lift by prayer, and labor by power.
My pace is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear.
I cannot be bought, compromised, deterred, lured away, turned back, diluted, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won’t give up, back up, let up, or shut up until I’ve preached up, prayed up, paid up, stored up, and stayed up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. I must go until He returns, give until I drop, preach until all know, and work until He comes.
And when He comes to get His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. My colors will be clear for ‘I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)’